Advocates for first responders gathered at Ground Zero Wednesday to bring renewed attention to the thousands of people grappling with serious illnesses stemming from 9/11.
Some 10,000 emergency personnel and civilians rely on the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to treat serious health problems related to exposure to toxins and carcinogens from the terror attacks two decades ago, officials said.
Fire union heads, lawyers and former Gov. George Pataki spoke emotionally about the need to continue doling out federal funds to those left ravaged by cancers contracted at the site on September 11, 2001 and in the following days and weeks.
“We can never forget what happened here,” said Pataki, who was the governor of New York 20 years ago.
“We can never forget those responders who were willing to do whatever it takes to make sure their health is protected, their families are protected as long as possible.”
More than 3,000 first responders, students, residents and workers have died of cancers linked to their exposure to the toxins released in wake of the attacks, in addition to the 2,977 killed that day in New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania, officials said.
The FDNY was by far the hardest hit organization, with 343 members killed at the World Trade Center, and 253 later dying of illnesses, according to union leaders.
“We’ve had a tremendous increase in cancer in all the firefighters and volunteers and police officers that came to work,” said Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Jim McCarthy, a 9/11 first responder.
The Victims Compensation Act was permanently extended in 2019 after cancer-stricken retired NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez gave emotional testimony before Congress. The extension will ensure that all eligible claims will be paid until the deadline of Oct. 1, 2090.
But the union boss said more money is still needed.
“And it turns out, very recently we found out that we’re going to have to go down [to lobby Congress] again and ask for some more money, just for the medical monitoring and the prescription drug coverage of people who’ve gotten Trade Center cancer or illnesses as a result of their work down here,” McCarthy said.
“We want everybody to realize that people are still getting sick and dying from the attacks and the rescue and recovery that happened 20 years ago.”
Retired NYPD Detective Barbara Burnette, 58, was at the event. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004.
“The program means everything to me because they cover all my expenses, as far as my treatments, which are very expensive,” she said. “I’m here to make sure that that continues and let them know that the program is definitely needed.”